Computers and your hands: Dispelling common myths

Have you heard that computer use causes carpal tunnel syndrome? In fact, there’s a near universal belief that technology gadgets can cause all sorts of hand problems.

Both the lay public and most healthcare providers believe that entities such as “blackberry thumb” and “repetitive strain injury” truly exist, and that common hand problems (such as flexor tendonitis and basal joint arthritis of the thumb) are caused by repetitive typing or using a mouse.

The most common myth remains that carpal tunnel syndrome is “that computer disease” and by using your hands for what is now an everyday function for many can cause physical harm.

Nothing is further from the truth….

Not only are common conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome, trigger finger and tennis elbow NOT caused by so called “overuse” or “repetitive stress” but they are actually metabolic and hormonal related issues quite easy to treat, given that the right diagnosis is made and the afflicted sees the right type of specialist. Economic ramifications of this issue are staggering. CTS is now responsible for 1/3 of all money spent on workers compensation, rivaling low back pain. More than $2 billion is spent yearly on a condition commonly seen in the general population, but particularly common in perimenopausal woman, diabetics and hypothyroid patients. Also common in third trimester pregnancies, the condition is usually resolved post-delivery and fluid retention diminishes.

Unfortunately, money in work comp’ better spent on compensating injured workers in true work-related accidents (such as falls, crush injuries or lacerations) instead goes to a pool of patients suffering from a common and easily treatable nerve compression disorder.

Education regarding carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive stress injuries is severely lacking and the information available to the public, employers and insurance industry is based upon myths not supported in scientific literature amongst hand specialists.

The misconception may have come about due to a former association between women and keyboard use because secretarial work had certain demographic trends and these are same patients that tend to suffer from CTS. Any hand surgeon will tell you they never see an adolescent sufferer, yet they type away all day on Facebook or a smart phone.

Dispelling the myth will not only have great economic impact, crucial in this age of healthcare cost containment, but will also enable the sufferer to have the appropriate and speedy treatment. Employers should focus on having their employees seen by appropriate specialists, helping prevent businesses from loss of crucial employees.

Alejandro Badia, MD, FACS, is Chief Medical Officer of OrthoNOW based in Doral. For more information, visit or tel. 305-537-7272.

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